Grounding innovation through convergence on jobs-to-be-done

Discovering intersections are where ideas collide, according to a theory brilliantly put together in a book some years ago by Frans Johansson called “The Medici Effect”. Johansson recommends we step into these intersections and then you can see how different thinking can meet head to head, as in this case from numerous innovation experts, to give you a deeper insight into your own innovation thinking.

I often have a habit of opening up a file on a subject when I feel it needs further exploring and jobs-to-be-done has become one of these. It is the convergence of many experts repeating sometimes their personal mantra has finally given me a growing realisation on how important this understanding of satisfying these jobs-to-be-done becomes too successful innovation.

Now this ‘light bulb’ moment of mine may not come as such a great a surprise to some of you selected few  but I’d argue it might be worth reflecting upon by taking a fresh look at this ‘idea’ of jobs-to-be-done a little deeper in your thinking also. There are many who tell you we should.

The power of many innovation thinkers

Firstly why is it that many of those renowned exponents of innovation are all beating the same drum? There is Tony Ulwick, CEO of Strategyn in countless articles and in his book “What Customers Want” talking about “Outcome-Driven Innovation” that really has mastered the methodology of addressing unmet customer needs. Recently Lance Bettencourt, a colleague of Tony’s , has delved even deeper into customer needs in his book “Service Innovation” arguing we must shift our focus away from the solution and back to the customer and stop taking those often educated guesses into a clear model to guide us to help people solve problems. Clayton Christensen talking about customers buy products and services, to help get jobs done in his book ‘The Innovator’s Solution”. Christensen went even further into this with in many articles and subsequent books as he expanded on his “Disruptive innovation theory”, including references in the one “Seeing What’s Next” with Scott Anthony and Erik Roth. Scott Anthony then picked up on this even further when he returned to this jobs-to-be-done in “The Innovator’s Guide to Growth” with Mark Johnson, Joseph Sinfield and Elizabeth Altman. Also Scott brings this out again in his “The Silver Lining”- an innovation playbook for uncertain times”. You also see further reference in articles entitled “Finding the right job for your product” in MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2007 by Christensen, Scott Anthony, Gerald Berstell & Denise Nitterhouse . There are so many references to this subject you must wonder why it is not more ‘top of mind’ in all that we do in innovation?

Their ‘collective wisdom’ is focus on the job trying to be done.

All focus upon specific techniques, methodologies,  processes to understand the customer and what they are trying to get done, that is a present day potentially  unmet need –something being missed by a product or service in any space applied to business-to-business or business-to-consumers. Some talk of designing a “jobs tree” others a “universal job map”.

A key takeaway is placing unmet needs, jobs-to-be-done BEFORE simply idea generation. Open-ended idea generation gives you an abundance of ideas but if you don’t really understand the customer needs and don’t have a clear standard that defines just what the structure, content or format of a valid customer statement need then all your efforts will potentially not lead to that more predictable innovation expected from all the innovation activity. In Tony Ulwicks clear view “it is the job the customer is trying to get done will offer the stable, long-term focal point around which value creation should be centred” He calls these the ‘desired outcomes’ customers want and to achieve this point they ‘hire’ products and services to do the job. It is how we see the world in innovative opportunity that will lead to better innovation and this collective insight argues this well.

So ‘jobs-to-be-done’ is a fundamental building block to presenting possible business opportunity as customers want to buy solutions. An often quoted comment from Professor Theodore Levitt “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill- they want a quarter-inch hole”. We need to learn the difference through closer observation and clarity of our thinking perhaps?

Recently we are going one step further- Jobs-to-be-done for Business Model Innovation

Mark Johnson in his recent book “Seizing the White Space– Business Model Innovation for Growth & Renewal” returns to jobs-to-be-done as essential for future Business Models. They form the customer value proposition and he suggests three important metrics come from this approach. 1. How important the job-to-be-done is to customers. 2. How satisfied customers are with the current solutions and 3. How well the new offering gets the job done, relative to the other options. The more important the job, the better the match between the job and the (final) offering will generate a potential new value proposition for Business model innovation- discovering unsatisfied jobs-to-be-done that might take you beyond the existing offerings in the market into a new terrain.

He argues you must first develop this ‘eye’ for discovering the most-promising opportunities, his ‘white space within’ so as to alter the basis of competition.

Needs-based is different

I think it is important to clarify something here. This jobs-to-be-done is not needs-based analysis. You must stop asking “what do you need?” and start asking “What are you trying to get done?” In Mark’s view and all the others before him “this will set you down the road to the jobs-based approach”. Reduce asking “what is desired?” you need to certainly delve a little deeper it seems.

Equally when you get into this unfilled jobs-to-be-done you have not just the functional aspects but you can explore the social and emotional aspects that all make up the experience to accomplish something. Service approaches need to think more about the social and emotional parts; again you can gain a greater insight into this from Lance Bettencourt’s book “Service Innovation” to grasp the real differences that could make a product, service or new business model truly innovative.

Adding even a further voice to this jobs view is Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur

Additionally Alex and Yves are lending their innovation weight to the value of jobs-to-be-done and often refers to this in focusing here in the application of their book “Business Model Generation” aim- a book for visionaries, game changers striving to defy outmoded business models to design tomorrow’s enterprise”. To describe the rationale of how and organization creates, delivers and captures value it has to go back to the job-to-be-overcome. His suggests value proposition needs to seek to solve customer problems and satisfy customer needs (and unmet ones especially) with a newly selected bundle of products, services, concepts etc. It can be an aggregation of existing combined in new ways or a new, sometimes disruptive offer.

Jobs-to-be-done offers a clear way to innovate

So whatever we do, we need to understand the unfilled job that needs satisfying, no matter if it is a product, service or business model. It comes from a distinct mix that could be quantitative or qualitative but it must contribute to new customer value creation. This could be in the form of newness (entirely new set of unmet needs), performance, customization, design, reduction on the existing offer (cost, price, risk, and complexity), giving accessibility, convenience and improved usability.

When thinking ‘collides’ we do need to understand it far deeper.

I’ve tried to step into this specific jobs-to-be-done intersection of thinking so you can see how such diverse innovation thinkers can converge too finally given me a growing realisation on how important this understanding need of satisfying these jobs-to-be-done becomes so important for successful innovation. It requires plenty of back tracking, researching and reading to fill in the gaps but if you recognise “Outcome-Driven Innovation”, “Disruptive Innovation theory”, the assorted guides to growth and wants, “Service Innovation”, “the Silver Lining” along with “Seizing the White Space” and “Business Model Generation” you realize this is a powerful point of convergence we cannot relegate or delegate, we need to fully understand it totally to make it connect in most of what we do in innovation discovery.

One final caution though is from Scott Anthony in his book ‘The Silver Lining”, “really nailing the job-to-be-done is not an easy task. It typically requires blending together multiple market-research techniques and acting like an investigative reporter or detective piecing together multiple clues”.

Who said successful innovation was easy anyway? It is certainly my ‘job-to-be done need’ in exploring the DNA of innovation.

6 thoughts on “Grounding innovation through convergence on jobs-to-be-done

  1. with regard to levitt’s famous comment, i often wonder whether customers really want quarter-inch holes.

    i suspect what they really want is to hang pictures – or even to have attractive living spaces…


    • Really important point. Even your play on “holes” in this particular example isn’t trivial; it shows how important it is to ask, when you think you know what matters to customers, “…in service of what ultimate goal?” A few iterations on that question can lead to new and surprising ways to satisfy customers.


  2. Really nice overview. Mark Johnson’s 3 questions: (1. How important the job-to-be-done is to customers. 2. How satisfied customers are with the current solutions and 3. How well the new offering gets the job done, relative to the other options.) are dead on, but I believe he misses one: 4. What is my ability to sell to these customers? Too often, even firms who work through 1-3 realize too late that buyers buy through channels, arcane practices, old-boy networks, fully integrated solutions, etc. making it difficult to actually compete a transaction. Asking in advance, “what is our ability to actually close deals,” can separate good from bad opportunities.


  3. Pingback: Juggling Innovation around Business Model Design | Paul4innovating's Blog

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